Giving Life My All

Giving all of myself to everything in my life… God, my family, my health, my mind. This is my story… my ups and downs, struggles and triumphs.

The dreaded Chemotherapy…

Chemotherapy… I was hoping I would be able to avoid it.  Well, today we found out that’s not going to happen.  Every day is a new adventure with me and this cancer battle.  It’s unpredictable what’s going to happen next in terms of treatment and where it will show up.  It’s not easy… and if you’re a planner like me, it throws you for a loop.  I’ve learned to be pretty darn flexible during these past 10 months.  I’ve learned that I’m not necessarily in control of this cancer.  We’re chasing after a cure… we’re not ahead of it.  I just keep telling myself that we can do this… we can beat it… we HAVE to beat it.

Today started out with CT Scans of my chest, abdomen and pelvic area.  My doctor wanted to get a new scan before the surgery to make sure that none of the cancerous spots in my body had grown significantly since the last scans.  With the requirement of me being off of Immunotherapy drugs for 2 weeks, thankfully, he wasn’t going to blindly risk my health just to fix my leg.  After the CT Scans, we met with my doctor.  He had received the initial scans but not an official reading of the scans from a radiologist.  He went over them with us and, basically, showed us that all of the spots we know about in my body (the 2 tumors in my right kidney and the spot on the left side of my diaphragm) had grown slightly.  The spots that were treated with radiation (the one on my spine, the one on the psoas muscle, and the one in my lung) were all still shrinking or have stayed the same size.  Because the spots that haven’t been treated with radiation are showing growth while on my Immunotherapy drug, he decided Chemotherapy was necessary.  And in addition to starting Chemo, we will be postponing the surgery on my Tibia until May 16th.  My doctor wants to boost me with a round of Chemo before and after surgery to avoid not having me on some sort of treatment.

We’re not wasting any time either.  Tomorrow is THE day.  Chemo round 1.  It’s pretty darn scary knowing some of the side effects… nausea, vomiting, flu-like symptoms, decrease in white blood cells, decreased appetite, weakness, fatigue… and the dreaded hair loss.  I’ve decided not to try to save my hair with the new special caps they’ve recently invented/discovered.  Plus, this was such a quick, last-minute decision that I can’t order it and get it in time… 9AM Chemo infusion TOMORROW.  I’m mourning the loss of my hair now… before it even happens because I know it’s inevitable.  I’m worried about the boys and their reaction.  Liam won’t understand but Cayden will.  He knows mommy has cancer… and he’s seen cancer patients without hair.  This is going to be a reminder to him that his mommy is different.  I just hope it doesn’t affect him too much.  And I hope his classmates and peers don’t pick on him because his mom looks strange.  I’ll have to sit down and have a conversation with him about what’s going to happen when I notice my hair thinning.  Man does this suck.  I hate that my kids have to be dragged into this cancer battle.  On a side note, I already have one beautiful scarf that my mom bought me during one of her trips out here to help us out.  See… I was trying to plan for the future knowing Chemo was an option.  I’m going to try to rock the bald look as best I can.  And if I don’t look good without hair, I’ll invest in a wig or 2… maybe have some fun and try out different hairstyles and colors.

And so… the battle continues.  Another chapter is about to start in my story.

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Anyone interested in an update?

So it’s been a little while since I’ve written an update on things… and it’s been a little overdue.  This post is basically a strictly informal one… no fun pictures or anything to go along with it.

I’m guessing that if you’re here reading this, then you are wondering how my health is.  Well.. the cancer has spread but, thankfully, it has not jumped into major organs other than my lungs.  Several weeks ago, we had a whole round of images taken trying to pinpoint where exactly this sucker is attacking me.  It all started with swelling of my left knee.  I was convinced that I had fluid buildup above and around my knee.  Eventually, I couldn’t walk due to the pain.  We had an ultrasound done the same day we thought we were going in to drain my knee… but the doctor who was going to do the procedure had some not-so-great news that put a damper on that plan.  There was no fluid.  There were lesions… AKA cancer.  Cancer in my knee.  So random.  From my kidney to my knee.  But that’s the easy part.  I can handle cancer in the muscle on a non-vital body part.  What I wasn’t expecting… or what’s a bit harder of a pill to swallow is finding out from my PET Scan and CT Scans that I have cancer growing on my spine… specifically the T9 vertebrae.  This vertebrae is actually fractured due to the cancer which explains the pain I had been feeling right in the middle of my back for the past several weeks.  Again, I’m thankful the cancer has not hit the actual spinal cord/nerves… it’s just sitting on top of and in between the bones.  If it hits the spinal cord, I’ll start having numbness in my lower limbs.  We are all praying that this never happens.  My doctors didn’t waste time getting me set up for more radiation once this mass was discovered.  That was almost 3 weeks ago… and if you’re counting, that was round 3 of radiation.  I’m almost 2 weeks out of the last session and I have no idea if it worked on my spine.  I do know that it definitely helped my knee… so that’s a positive.

This week I’ll have a follow-up MRI on my spine to see if the radiation worked… and my right ankle that is swollen and hurts to walk on.  I’m still having pain on the T9 vertebrae which is not very encouraging but I’m hopeful that we at least stopped the growth where it is and can now allow my Immunotherapy drug to do its magic.  So overall… I’m feeling pretty good.  I’m living life day by day… taking the news as it comes.  My doctors are on the same page… day by day… new tumor by new tumor… my case seems to be unique to them.  The cancer has been unpredictable in where it will show up next so we are on a wait and see plan.  I’ll have chest, abdomen and pelvic CT Scans in a couple of weeks to check on all of my organs.  Until then… the MRI of my spine is up next.

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So It’s Been a While…

It’s been well over a year since the last time I posted anything and it’s crazy how much has changed and how much I have been through during that time.  As I’ve hinted at before, I would not have made it through without leaning on God for strength.  One year ago, I was diagnosed with Major Depression but was suffering Clinical Depression that was spurred on by undiagnosed Postpartum Depression.  I was in a downward spiral destroying my life and my marriage until I was forced to face my demons by caring family and friends.  Thankfully, I have my depression under control with the assistance of medication, exercise, and faith.  I will speak with anyone who is interested in hearing more about this or who is thinking they might be experiencing depression.  Later posts may relate to this topic as it applies to my life… but I have done a pretty good job of taking care of my mental health with the help of my husband, family, friends, and God.

 

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Playing soccer with some local children in Highgate, Jamaica

 

 

At the end of June, I traveled to Jamaica for a week-long Mission Trip with my church, Trader’s Point Christian Church.  It was an amazing experience, a huge wake-up call, and something I plan to commit my efforts to for years to come.  I hope to elaborate on this trip in a future post.  Just 2 days after returning home from Jamaica, I had a major medical scare.  A 10 cm mass was found on my left kidney.  It showed signs of malignancy but I quickly learned that kidney cancer can’t fully be diagnosed as such until the tumor is removed and the entire thing is tested.  So… on July 29th, I had an Open Radical Nephrectomy to remove my entire left kidney, left Renal Vein, left Adrenal Gland and surrounding Lymph Nodes.  During the procedure, my surgeons discovered that the tumor extended well into the Renal Vein and up the Inferior Vena Cava.  They made the decision during the surgery to open up my Vena Cava to remove as much of the tumor as possible.  The surgery that was supposed to be 3 hours long ended up taking 6 hours,  during which I had 2 blood transfusions.  At the end of the 6 hours, the Vascular Surgeon made the decision to close me up knowing he was not able to get all of the tumor out.  He scraped as much off the walls as he could, but he could not reach up beyond the liver.  So, they closed me up to start my recovery.  It’s been 8 weeks since the surgery… and although it has been rough, I have almost made a full and complete recovery.  My surgeon has been impressed with how well I’m doing… how quickly I was up and walking… and how straight I was able to stand just 2 days after surgery.  When I came home from the hospital, 4 days after surgery, I was doing full squats in my garden to check out what happened while I was away.  I definitely don’t advise everyone to attempt this at home if they ever go through a major surgery, but having been in really good physical shape, my body was conditioned to do these things naturally, without strain.  If there has ever been a time or reason for me to encourage people to take care of their bodies and to build endurance and strength, this is it.

 

Now… just a couple of ways that I have witnessed God in action throughout this ordeal…

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When my doctors were getting ready to close me up, they spoke to my husband in the waiting room.  They had already explained the difficulties they encountered during the surgery and they had to brief him on rules and policies of the Intensive Care Unit.  They didn’t think I would be awake for a couple of hours and they were going to have to watch me very carefully to make sure I was okay from the major surgery I just had.  Thirty minutes after they rolled me out of the Operating Room to the recovery area, they went to get Greg.  They told him that I was awake and that he could see me.  He was a bit confused since he had just been told that it would be several hours before this would happen.  Beyond what everyone was expecting, I never had to enter the ICU.  My body was handling the surgery way better than the doctors could have predicted.  Greg walked back to recovery and was able to hold my hand and talk to me… although I have no recollection of this.  He said the first thing I said to him was “Is it over already?  That was quick.”  Just a couple of hours later, they rolled me into my own recovery room.

 

24 hours later, the nurses were ready to stand me up to move me from my bed to a chair.  I handled that easily and so, the next day, they wanted me to try walking.  When it was time to walk, I stood straight up with some help from the nurses and family and started taking my first steps.  The nurses were shocked at how I was able to stand straight up… they said most patients with abdominal surgery end up hunched over, holding their incision.  I, then, walked halfway down the long hall, turned around and walked back while holding Greg’s arm.  The nurses were impressed with that too… they weren’t expecting me to walk as far as I did on my first attempt.

 

 

Once at home, I slowly started gaining my strength back.  I used my leg and back muscles to do squats down to the floor if there was something I needed.  I went up and down stairs as necessary.  I tried to stay up and moving as much as my body allowed me to.  By the time I had my 2 week post op check-up, my surgeon was blown away by my recovery.  4 weeks after the surgery, I was flying out to NYC to meet with a Urologist at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center.  I’m now almost 9 weeks out and I have returned to REFIT(R) classes once a week to continue building my strength and fitness back up.

 

Honestly, if there is one thing I have been unbelievably thankful for during all of this (other than God), it’s my overall great physical health.  I have no doubt that if I wasn’t as fit as I was when I went into my surgery, it would have been a much longer and tougher recovery.

 

Also… God’s work during all of this still amazes me.  A year and a half ago I became a Certified REFIT Instructor.  A year ago, I started teaching 2 REFIT classes each week at the Hendricks County YMCA.  Last winter, I added a 3rd class to my schedule.  Teaching 3 fitness classes every week forced me to keep my health and physical fitness in check.  Had God not put these opportunities in front of me during this past year and a half, I most likely would’ve decided to take a break with exercising.  God put these classes on my plate to help my body prepare for the battle it was going to have to endure in the future.  When I went in to have my Kidney removed, I had 2 Urologists performing the surgery.  There was no plan to have any other surgeons involved.  When they opened me up and discovered that the cancer had spread up my IVC, they knew they had to call a skilled vascular surgeon in to help clear the tumor.  God had Dr. Irwin working in St. Vincent’s that night… one of a handful of surgeons in the entire hospital who is capable of performing the necessary procedure.  Though he was not originally part of the operating team, God had him there at the hospital to join in to help remove more of the cancer.  I have been told multiple times by several doctors that this entire operation was a MAJOR surgery.  I have also been told multiple times by doctors that I am recovering way better than the majority of people.

 

One thing I can say with confidence through all that I have been through is that God’s got this…. and I truly do not believe I would be where I am today without Him having control over all of this…. it has all been years in the making.  My battle with Renal Cell Carcinoma isn’t over, but I have full confidence (with all of these signs from God) that this cancer will not end my story.

 

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